By: Thandiwe Ogbonna
On June 17-19, family members, friends, and the festival community are coming together to honor the life of a young woman who brought joy to many and continues to do so through the festival dedicated to her memory. Purple Hatters Ball is held each year at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, just north of Live Oak, Fla. (about an hour west of Jacksonville).
The lineup is an impressive mix of international (The Floozies, Papadosio, The Polish Ambassador) and regional (Post Pluto, Bedside, Squeedlepuss) artists clearly selected to be a part of the festival based on their talent and vision. Genres range from funk to dub to dubstep, and a silent disco promises to keep you going late into the night.
But if the lineup isn’t enough to get you here, there are a lot of other important reasons to attend this festival.
1. The Purpose
Purple Hatters Ball celebrates the life of Rachel Morningstar Hoffman, a 23-year-old FSU graduate who was killed in 2008 while acting as a police informant during a drug sting. The Rachel Morningstar Foundation, which benefits from the festival’s proceeds, provides education to the public on the dangers and legal models concerning acting as an informant.
In addition to the festival’s founding purpose, attendees have the chance to support Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park by participating in the first ever Action Day at Purple Hatters Ball hosted by The Polish Ambassador. Happening the Thursday before the festival begins, activities include preparing garden areas for food planting and building waste management stations (participants must have pre-registered before the festival).
2. The Venue
There are a number of ways to enjoy and interact with nature on Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park’s more than 800 acres. Bikes and canoes are available for rent, and a dock is free to use for catch-and-release fishing in the lake.
Additional amenities you won’t find at other festivals include a beach stage (so you can dance as you bask in the sun on the banks of the Suwannee River), a natural amphitheater surrounded by shade-bearing oak and cypress trees, a full service restaurant inside the onsite dance hall, an onsite convenience store, and bath houses. All of these make for a no stress festival experience.
3. The Vibe
The weekend is also a celebration of community and the ways we can and do support each other through all that we face in life. Both in the audience and on stage you’ll find people who knew Rachel personally, including her mother “Momma Margie” who participates in the butterfly release each year in Rachel’s honor.
A full yoga and workshop schedule offers opportunities to connect and grow -- not that you’ll have any trouble connecting at such a welcoming event. Live painters provide an ever-changing accompaniment to the vibrant people, music, and art that are visible all weekend.
Purple Hatters Ball is not a festival to miss. For all these reasons and more, it is the perfect summer music weekend getaway in the woods. I’m really looking forward to the chance to take some time out and enjoy nature, music, and people, all while honoring Rachel’s life and coming together in community at a time when it is certainly needed.
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